Thursday, July 19, 2012

#703. Teenage Caveman (1958)

Directed By: Roger Corman

Starring: Robert Vaughn, Darah Marshall, Leslie Bradley

Tag line: "Prehistoric Lovers Against Primitive Beasts!"

Trivia: This film was shot under the title Prehistoric World

Right out of the gate, where we’re treated to some biblically-inspired voice-over narration explaining how the world was created, I started having my doubts about Teenage Caveman. Was director Roger Corman really going to aim that high, I wondered? Was he actually attempting a “thinking man’s” teenage caveman film? Well, yes and no. While Corman’s low-budget sensibilities do shine through on more than one occasion, Teenage Caveman isn’t nearly as bad as its title might lead you to believe. It even has a pretty clever twist ending.

In a primitive society that strictly adheres to the laws passed down by its ancestors, one young man (Robert Vaughn) dares to challenge the status quo. His father, who serves as the tribe’s Symbol Maker (Leslie Bradley), warns his son not to break the law by venturing into the forbidden territory, where death and destruction surely await him. But the young man wants to see for himself what the world has to offer, and sets out to explore the unknown, where he’ll encounter wild dogs, fearsome creatures, and a shocking truth neither he nor his people are prepared to face.

On a technical level, Teenage Caveman has its issues, beginning with the costumes (which, on the women and children, look more like form-fitting skirts than they do animal skins). The special effects are also less than impressive, many clearly lifted from other films. I chuckled a little in an early scene where the young man is talking to his father about the forbidden land. As the two argue over the law that keeps them from visiting the open plains, Corman cuts to a few brief glimpses of the surrounding area, including a quick shot of these plains (an obvious miniature) where a dinosaur (played by a lizard) jumps off a rock as three wooly mammoths (also miniatures, because they never move) look on. Not five minutes in, and I knew that, for me to accept Teenage Caveman’s primordial setting, my imagination was gonna have to put in a little overtime.

Once it got going, however, Teenage Caveman drew me in. Sure, the dialogue’s way too verbose for its own good, but I liked the central story of a young man refusing to conform to the restrictive beliefs of his elders. OK, OK…maybe it doesn't sound like much on paper, but for a movie with plastic dinosaurs and clean-shaven cavemen, it’s a surprisingly strong narrative, all leading up to an ending that took me completely by surprise.

Teenage Caveman may look like your average low-budget fare, yet it’s ultimately more than you’d have ever expected it to be.


Unknown said...

I didn't see this movie, but imagining Robert Vaughn (aka the suave Napoleon Solo) as a teenage caveman is making me smile as I'm typing this.


One of my all-time most favorite movies. Far better than the title would usually leave, and better than you would expect during this period of Roger Corman's directing.

ending is the best possible twist One could expect. Watch the whole movie because it will make the ending that much more of a pleasant surp